RB Jamel White handed out Buccaneer flags and did his part to raise spirits in Hurricane Charley's path
More than a week has passed since Hurricane Charley ripped across Central Florida, and lives have returned to normal for many who were out of the storm's direct path. For those who felt the full force of Charley, however, life has been anything but ordinary since.
On Saturday, August 21, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set out to offer support for these neighbors, Charley's victims and the emergency personnel working the area ravaged by the storm. Derrick Brooks, Ken Dilger, Derrick Deese, Shelton Quarles and Jamel White caravanned to the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales, the area's base of emergency relief operations, with one collective goal in mind: boost the morale of those trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.
"After everything this area has gone through the past seven days, spirits have been very, very low," a Sheriff spokesperson said. "These workers have been out here every day, rain or shine, doing what they can to get this area up and running again. After a few days, you can see it really starting to wear on them. Something like [the Bucs' visit] instantly raises everyone's morale. It's really a huge boost for us."
The players were given a tour of the command center, where emergency relief officials briefed them on the magnitude of storm's destruction. The players then visited a series of staging areas, doing what they could to lift relief workers' spirits.
Deese and Dilger passed out and autographed armfuls of Buccaneer flags. Brooks distributed commemorative Super Bowl books, signing each with a personal message of support. Quarles and White signed and handed out team visors to everyone in sight. All the players gave away countless numbers of stickers, window clings and schedule magnets.
"This is unbelievable," Red Cross representative Renee Arocho said. "It means so much that these guys took time out of their schedules to come offer support for us. Everyone here really needed something like this to keep us going. I can't put into words what this means to all of us."
The players posed for pictures with workers distributing water, food and ice. They listened to stories at the Federal Emergency Management Agency offices. Members of the National Guard were glad just to meet their favorite players. If someone wanted an item autographed, the players obliged. Same thing with hugs and handshakes. For a few minutes, everyone at the relief center seemed to forget about Charley and the destruction it brought upon the community; perhaps that was the best thing the Bucs could have hoped to offer.
Not surprisingly, the visit had at least as much impact on the players as the people they had come to support.
"This community has been though a lot in the past week," Brooks said. "To see a tragedy like this is terrible, but it's also great to see the community come together in a time like this. I feel like we need to do our part too. You can never imagine something like this happening, but when it does, everyone has to give their support.
"My teammates and I are so fortunate, so blessed. Derrick, Shelton, Ken, Jamel and I just wanted to come out and help however we could. Hopefully we made them forget about this disaster for a little bit."